10 Tips for an Authentic Ireland Vacation

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When I'm not traveling in Ireland I attend many Irish events in the US – Irish festivals and fairs, Irish dance competitions, and the occasional ceili (kay-lee; evening of music and dancing).

Some of these events will feature ‘top travel agents' or ‘Ireland travel experts' to answer questions about trips to Ireland. And while many ‘top agents' can offer great tips on booking travel- I often find myself disagreeing with their recommendations on how to get around and what to experience when you arrive on the Emerald Isle.

car at Durrow Viaduct, County Waterford, Ireland
Follow the road less traveled- you never know what you might discover!

When we travel I want to be immersed in Ireland. I want to meet the people, have a pint, learn the dance steps (with my two left feet), and hear their stories.

So when travel agents suggest a large tour operator as the best way to travel, I disagree. It's not that I have anything against tours; some are really great. Like my own Celtic Experience small-group tour. Or local guide walking tours through a city or area. Or even a day tour if you don't want to drive yourself along cliff-top roads overlooking the ocean.

But for exploring all Ireland has to offer I recommend renting a car (or hiring a private driver guide) – especially if you are traveling with children.

It's not that difficult to drive on the “wrong” side of the road and when you have your own vehicle you are free to go at your own pace. Follow that intriguing, hand painted sign for hot tea and fresh scones; search for the castle you *think* you see in the distance; pull to the side of the road and talk to the man strolling with his dog. You can't do any of that on a big bus tour.

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Lough Eske Castle, Dnegal, Ireland

Another suggestion I balk at, at least for Ireland, is to spend your entire vacation in hotels. I, personally, recommend mixing up your lodgings– maybe a B&B for a couple nights, followed by a boutique hostel to save a bit of money, then a splurge on a castle hotel. Each accommodation is a different experience, a unique ‘flavor' of Ireland.

While you don't want to miss the sights of your destination what you will really remember from your trip are the experiences, the chance encounters, and the mishaps along the way.

Hore Abbey, County Tipperary, Ireland
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Tips to Find Your Authentic Ireland Vacation

10) Drive yourself. This is truly the best way explore Ireland. You set the pace, stop and go as you please. Getting lost is half the fun. Truly. The only time we avoid driving is when we are in a large city with great public transportation. 
Everything You Need to Know About Car Rental in Ireland

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9) Get off the motorway! Charles Kuralt famously said, “Thanks to the Interstate Highway System, it is now possible to travel from coast to coast without seeing anything.” That is no less true in Ireland. Just remember- off the motorway the roads are narrow and winding in Ireland so plan extra time to reach your destination!

Adare Abbey, Adare, County Limerick, Ireland
A perfect January day in Adare.

8 ) Sit at the bar! It's a fact- locals choose to sit at the bar for a chat; tourists sit at tables. We've taken our girls into many a pub- both in Ireland and the US. While we don't sit at the bar when they are with us, we do sit as close to it as possible. In most pubs you will order your drinks and food at the bar. Say hello and start a conversation. You never know who you may meet and what you may learn!

7) Ask questions! It doesn't matter if you are asking for directions or recommendations, people love to talk about where they live. This is the best way to find out where to get the best food, where to hear the best music, or if there are any “hidden gems” most tourists miss. Just don't be in a rush- good questions lead to great stories!

Gaulstown Dolmen, County Waterford, Ireland
So many magical spots in Ireland don't appear in guidebooks!

6) Visit the sites. That's what you went to see, after all. But be sure to talk to the staff and guides- and not just about the attraction. Ask about their favorite feature, inquire about legends, engage them in conversation. You'll get more than the “regular” tour. They may even be able to point you to lesser known, and often more interesting, locations. 

5) Attend a local sporting event, festival, or market day. Be open, ask questions, listen and engage the people you meet. It's amazing what you will learn about customs, traditions, and even history of an area from casual conversations.

4) Kids everywhere like the same things. They also make friends easily. Let them take the lead. Visit a park or playground. You may get insider tips on a children's theater that hosts free plays or a fair coming up for the weekend.

A friendly horse on Inis Oirr, Aran Islands, Ireland © 2016 Jody Halsted, Ireland Family Vacations; Halsted Enterprises, Inc.

3) Be flexible. You never know what opportunities will present themselves as you travel. Don't follow such a rigid schedule that you have to decline an invitation or bypass an incredible spot to stay ‘on time'.

2) Relax. Dance in a pub, join a ceili, sing with the band. My daughters do this all the time and have the most fun. Let go a little; you're on vacation.

1) Slow down! You'll never “see it all” so take the time to really savor what you do see and enjoy the moments. Don't come home from your vacation feeling like you need a vacation.
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sheep in County Cork, Ireland


  1. Jennifer- We’ve not yet had a chance to visit Inishowen… But it’s on my list of places to go!

    I leave for Ireland in one week and I have concerns about the rental car. I plan on paying extra through the rental company for the CDW. But do they still put a hold of $1000 to $3000 on a credit card even if you DO get the CDW. Everywhere I read says if you decline CDW they put a hold but nothing about a hold if you accept it! Any thoughts on that?

      Hi Shawna. Who are you renting through? I’ve not had a problem with holds placed on my card when I accept a CDW, but I usually use Dan Dooley when I rent. If you used a travel agent I would recommend contacting them and having them sort it out. Otherwise call the company directly- in Ireland- and inquire. It would be best to know that answer up front. Don’t forget to get the name of the person you spoke with. And have a wonderful trip!


      For a little help here is how we explain the insurance to our clients. Each companies amounts are different, but this is how the insurance works for everyone. The deposit is only not required if you accept the SUPER CDW (option 3). In most cases with the hold on your card the funds are available they are just able to take them if needed. In some cases the funds are held entirely. We suggest having a separate credit card available for this hold if that is the case, but it’s best to ask the car company first before even traveling.

      Option 1:
      No coverage, customer is liable for all damage. Not available in Ireland. The Collision Damage Waiver (CDW) that is included in your rental agreement is mandatory when renting a car in Ireland. It provides the minimum required coverage.

      Option 2:
      Opt for the basic CDW included in your rental agreement. Based on the type of car you rent, you will be covered up to a certain limit (usually over 1,000 Euros per car, with increases per car size). If there is damage to the car you will be responsible for any amount exceeding the covered limit.

      Option 3:
      Opt for CDW w/ Excess. This insurance upgrade is available at a per-day date (normally from 10 to 15 euros). This option reduces your liability to zero. If there is damage to your car you will not be responsible.

      The option you choose is up to you. However, if you do not take the Excess (option 3) your rental company will require a credit card deposit equal to your coverage amount (option 2).

        Thank you for the great explanation! I think I may use this information for a post- so helpful!

          No problem, any other questions please feel free to ask 🙂 Feel free to link to our planning page in your post for more helpful information such as when to travel, how to set the right itinerary without getting exhausted, accommodations available, etc.. http://www.tenontours.com/tour/plan-self-drive-ireland/

          Your posts are always enjoyable & we enjoy reading them.

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